Game 23: Astros 6, Cardinals 5

It was set to be Lance Berkman‘s homecoming. As Matt Leach stated on Twitter last night, Berkman had written everyone’s stories for them with an RBI double in the top of the 9th to give St. Louis the lead. But things changed quickly. A single, a passed ball, an error, and a wild pitch later and the Astros tied up the game and had Michael Bourn on first, all with newly minted closer Mitchell Boggs on the mound. The Astros would then load the bases on Boggs, all without getting a single out. Ultimately, with one out Bill Hall singled in the game winning run and Boggs was left staring at a blown save and a loss.
If the main storyline coming into this game was the return of Lance Berkman to Houston. One of the minor ones had to be former Cardinals’ prospect Brett Wallace getting to play his old team for the first time. While Berkman went 2-for-5 with a ninth inning RBI, Wallace played a crucial part for the Astros, going 3-for-4 and adding an RBI of his own. 
For the Cardinals, the hero of the night would be Daniel Descalso. He would go 3-for-3 with two doubles, a triple, and an intentional walk. He became just the 26th Cardinal in franchise history to post 7 total bases in just 4 plate appearances. The last was Adam Kennedy in 2008 and it had only been done 3 times in the Tony LaRussa era.
The other big note of the night was Albert Pujols getting an intentional walk in his only plate appearance of the game. He didn’t start due to concerns with his hamstring, but made a pinch hitting appearance in the top of the 8th. It was his first intentional walk of the season, making it the deepest in a season that he’d gotten an intentional walk. He got walked in his 23rd game this year, his previous long had been in the 7th game of the season. Dating back to last year, he hadn’t been intentionally walked in 27 straight games, that was the 9th longest streak of his career. His longest was an amazing 80 games from June 2004 to September 2004.
Hero: Does it go to anyone other than Daniel Descalso? 3-for-3 with 3 RBI and 7 total bases is a pretty incredible night. (3-for-3, 2 2B, 1 3B, 3 RBI)
Zero: Mitchell Boggs. Am I clamoring for his replacement? No. If Franklin was given 4 mistakes, we can give Boggs at least 1. What concerned me, though, was the fact that they tied the game before Boggs was able to notch a single out and mental errors compounded the situation. It will be interesting to see how he comes back in his next opportunity. (0.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER)

Game 22: Cardinals 3, Reds 0

Jake Westbrook got a much needed dominant start as he held the divisional rival Reds to just three hits over six innings. His mirror, Edinson Volquez matched him into the sixth inning when Yadier Molina parked one over the fence for his first home run of the season, plating three runs with it. Molina even mimicked the home run trot of Brandon Phillips. Molina and Phillips were the two players at the center of last August’s confrontation between the Cardinals and Reds.
For Westbrook, he had struggled mightily so far in 2011. Going into the season he was the Cardinals #2 starter. He hadn’t shown it, but Sunday night he finally broke through, much to the enjoyment of Cardinals’ fans. It was when they needed it most. The rubber game of a home series against the team they were tied for the early season division lead with. Westbrook came out like a shining star.
The bullpen also showed it’s dominance of the Reds offense. Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez, and Mitchell Boggs combined to throw 3 innings and strike out 6. Boggs would be the only one of the trio to allow a hit, with a double to Joey Votto, but Boggs would easily pick up his third save in as many chances by striking out the final two batters of the inning.
For Molina, he has finally turned it around at the plate. After struggling to start the season, in the team’s last 8 games, Molina is hitting .393 with a home run and 5 RBI. Something that was always interesting to me, was that despite Molina’s early season struggles at the plate, he was still among the team’s leaders at scoring in base runners.
Hero: Tonight’s hero will go to Jake Westbrook, though Molina is very deserving as well. For Westbrook it was a night he needed to come up big, and he did. (6.0 IP, 3 H, 3 BB, 4 K)
Zero: Here’s calling Daniel Descalso‘s bat? Anyone? Once Schumaker and Craig return from the disabled list, someone will be joining Mark Hamilton on the trip back to Memphis. Unfortunately for Descalso, he has not hit well lately and didn’t last night either. As much as I love Descalso, that puts him at the top of my list for that passenger list. (0-for-3, 2 K, 3 LOB)

Game 21: Reds 5, Cardinals 3

For the second straight game of the series, rain played a major role. Unfortunately, it was the Reds who took advantage after the rains stopped. Chris Carpenter, while not efficient, turned in a quality start for the Cardinals once again. Once again, his start went wasted as the bullpen would fail to hold onto it as he will go winless in April.
Fernando Salas turned in a perfect inning of relief before handing the ball to Miguel Batista in the 8th. Ironically, Batista was on the mound when the rains came the night before. However, for the Cardinals bullpen, it all fell apart in the 8th inning. I believe, the final four hitters for the Reds each had two strike counts and the Cardinals were unable to convert those to outs. 
For Batista, ironically he gets both a hold and picks up the loss for his 2/3rds of the inning. Trevor Miller will get a blown save for walking Jay Bruce that scored Drew Stubbs, and then Ryan Franklin was called upon with the bases loaded to try to work the Cardinals out of the jam. He didn’t, as Miguel Cairo doubled on an 0-2 pitch from Franklin to score the second and third runs of the inning.
Hero: Tonight’s hero will go to Albert Pujols, whose 6th inning solo shot was a go-ahead run and Cardinal fans were hoping that it would be the final run needed to win the game. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. (1-for-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K)
Zero: As much as I would like to give it to Ryan Franklin, the complete implosion wasn’t his fault. It is a combination of Trevor Miller and Miguel Batista. Which of those two get it? Trevor Miller. Miller has been darned near ineffective this season. As our only left handed bullpen arm, he needs to step up. His last couple outings, he has been unable to do his job and Franklin has gotten the bad rap for it (thought that doesn’t absolve Franklin of his share of the fault). (0.0 IP, 1 BB, BS)

Game 20: Cardinals 4, Reds 2

Okay, okay. I consistently and loudly complain about a lot of Tony LaRussa’s moves, moves that seem to less and less reflect a statistical basis for the determination for the move. Moves I think have begun to cost the Cardinals more games than it’s winning us. However, being harsh in my complaints, I try to be quick with the praise when there is a brilliant move. 
That said, last night’s pre-game decision to scratch Kyle McClellan from his scheduled start to give the ball to Miguel Batista was brilliant. The plan was for Batista to start the game, which was expected to have an early rain delay, and then save McClellan to come in after the rain delay. For the Cardinals, it worked out beautifully. Six pitches into the game, the umpires called a rain delay.
When the game resumed, in came McClellan, who threw 6 good innings and Edinson Volquez, the scheduled Reds starter, didn’t throw a single pitch as the Reds had to go to their bullpen right off the bat and then ask them for 9 innings. 

For the Cardinals offense, they put 13 men on base in the first 5 innings of the game, but failed to poke a hole in the Reds, yet still scored enough to win. Daniel Descalso was the only offensive player with an at bat to fail to get a hit for the Cardinals.

The bullpen also turned in a great effort. Eduardo Sanchez got his first real test as he appears to be the team’s current 7th inning guy. Sanchez came in after McClellan allowed two batters to get on base in the seventh inning. It was Sanchez’s first pressured position. He walked one, but only allowed one of the two base runners to score, handing the ball to Jason Motte in the eighth with the lead still intact.  Motte allowed two hits and got two outs before handing the ball to Mitchell Boggs for the chance at the four out save.

Hero of the Game: On a brilliant move to save McClellan for after the rain delay, Tony LaRussa will earn today’s hero of the game.

Zero of the Game: Only Cardinals player with an AB and no hit to show for it, Daniel Descalso. (0-for-3)

Game 19: Cardinals 5, Nationals 0

Before the game I said that all I wanted out of Kyle Lohse today was 7 innings with 3 earned, one from the bullpen, and 5 runs from the offense. I got more, and less, than I asked for. Lohse was dominant on Thursday afternoon, tossing 9 scoreless innings and allowing just four base runners all day on two hits and two walks. For Lohse, it takes him to a 3-1 record as the only Cardinal to score a decision in all four of his starts, and his ERA drops to just 2.01 in the short season. 
Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols provided most of the offense. Holliday took Tom Gorzelanny deep in the bottom of the first to give the Cardinals a two run lead and they never looked back. Not wanting to be left out, Pujols would provide his own two-run home run to give the team some insurance runs as they plated three runs in the bottom of the eighth as well.
Despite the victory, one thing I noticed from the box score was that the Cardinals left six men on base this afternoon. They also went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
Hero of the Game: Can there be anyone else? Kyle Lohse. The man has stepped up when we needed him to. (9.0 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 0 ER, 6 K)
Zero of the Game: Ryan Theriot was hitting .338 at the end of the first game during yesterday’s double header. Since then he’s gone 0-for-9 with 5 runners left of base. While Molina also went 0-for-4 today, the leadoff hitter is responsible for getting going in front of the big hitters, if he can’t do that he deserves this more. (0-for-4, 2 LOB)

Game 18: Cardinals 5, Nationals 3

Let’s play two! In the second game of the double header, Jaime Garcia picked up his third win of the season to remain undefeated. For Garcia it wasn’t an exceptional start. He threw 101 pitches over 5+ innings of baseball, but the offense managed to provide him enough offense to keep the lead. 
The unsung hero of today’s win might just be the bullpen. Through 6 innings in the first game and 4 innings in the second game, the only runs allowed by the bullpen was the home run off of Franklin in the first game. Jason Motte, who threw an inning in each game, pitched a scoreless 6th. Eduardo Sanchez continued his strong run by going 6 up, 6 down in the 7th and the 8th before Mitchell Boggs showed Cardinals fans how games are supposed to be saved in the 9th. 

Nick Punto got a bloop RBI single in his first day back playing in the major leagues. For a guy who hasn’t seen much major league pitching this year and hasn’t played a real game in probably two months, it was a pretty solid performance for him.

Today’s offensive performance was what I like to see. No homers, but actually getting quality hits for the RBI.

Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such varied performance in games in a double header that we got today from Ryan Theriot. He went 4-for-5 in game 1 and then went 0-for-5 in game 2.

Hero of the Game: After much consideration, mainly between Lance Berkman and Jason Motte, I chose Berkman. Berkman added RBI in both the bottom of the 4th and the bottom of the 5th to help the Cardinals answer to the Nationals who tried to keep up with the Cards. I considered Motte because he shut them down in the 6th after the Cardinals solidified their lead. But it’s Berkman. (3-for-4, 1 R, 2 RBI)

Zero of the Game: Ryan Theriot’s slow game 2 earns him this honor. I considered Punto, but he had an RBI and he hasn’t played a real game all year. (0-for-5, 3 LOB)